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PSY, Adele and making it in America

(UPDATE)--It was an event that aimed to answer questions. And sometimes the answers raised more questions.

MU:CON Seoul 2012 held on November 1 and 2 at the hip Hongdae area gathered international industry experts in Nuritkum Square in Mapo-gu to discuss ways to promote the growing Asian music market to the rest of the world.

While the overseas success of K-pop undoubtedly inspired the conference, the MU:CON organization graciously included the rest of Asia in the discussion.

No escaping THAT song

Psy (SportsKorea)

Predictably, PSY and his worldwide mega-hit "Gangnam Style" was omnipresent. Partially educated at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston (!), PSY apparently intended the song to be a K-pop parody of sorts…but ended up contributing to it.

It's said that a good song, heavy promotion in traditional and non-traditional media, finding key connections, etc. make up the usual formula for turning a song into a hit. In PSY's case, it was an explosion of more than 750 million views to date of his song on YouTube.

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But as keynote speaker and six-time Grammy winner Harvey Mason Jr. pointed out, there are no guarantees. "If there was one sure formula, everybody would have a hit," he said. Timing or "the planets aligning, or however you choose to see it" is also a factor, the jazz drummer added.

Timing is key
The success of Adele, for example, can't be explained by talent and great songs alone. After all, the same can be said for loads of similar artists. Adele emerged from the pack because "the world seemed to agree at one point that it needed Adele."

Mason also mentioned honesty and "keeping it real" as keys to what the U.S. market responds to.

If so, then does it mean the world decided collectively that it needed "Gangnam Style?" Is PSY "keeping it real?"

PSY started a joke
To paraphrase an old Bee Gees song: "PSY started a joke… that started the whole world reacting."

The fact is, the video is funny and the song does have a catchy (or moronic, depending on your view) hook. This K-pop parody almost instantly inspired its own parodies.

Love it or hate it, it's all good in the online world. Comments generate more comments and clicks and fuel the phenomenon, turning it viral. Remember Rebecca Black's truly godawful non-song "Friday," which debuted on YouTube and became a hit because the world called it the worst song ever written?

Going viral is not enough
However, even YouTube Korea/Japan's John Hirai points out the viral thing is only part of the story.

"Gangnam Style" truly skyrocketed when Justin Bieber's manager Scooter Braun signed up PSY for a record deal, which led to mainstream TV and radio appearances and high-profile celebrity endorsement tweets.

Going viral was key, he says, but a powerful savvy manager plus mainstream media still cast a wide net of influence.

Still, the history-making rocket ride prompted Glastonbury Festival's Malcolm Haynes to ask, "I do wonder what the rest of his album sounds like."

An online AND physical presence

Stampede Management Ted Chung explains why interculturalism is necessary for a global market. (Contributed photo …

According to Ted Chung of Stampede Management (which handles Far East Movement and Snoop Dogg a.k.a. Snoop Lion), a sustained and long-term foothold in the U.S. market requires two things: 1) an active presence in relevant and trusted media sites (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, YouTube, to name a few) and 2) physical presence in the form of constant touring (which will require signing up with a booking agency).

He also believes that English is necessary as most major music markets speak or understand it.

Will PSY become a future "legacy" artist or disappear along with the "Macarenas" of the past?

Live performances

Jambinai uses traditional Korean instruments for their "ambient metal". (Photo courtesy of Francis Brew)

The live music showcase of the conference consisted of more than 80 acts, which were mostly from Korea. But there were also participants from Taiwan (Elesha), Thailand (Thaitanium), Japan (Ai Takekawa), Singapore (Kewei), Vietnam (Trang Phap), and Canada (The Airplane Boys). (What, no Filipinos? Maybe next year?)

Every musical style was accounted for, from soul to jazz to hip-hop to punk to "ethnic" post-rock.

Of the Korean acts featured, Crying Nut played Flogging Molly-influenced punk. The power trio Galaxy Express is as far removed from PSY as Green Day is from Pitbull. And Jambinai's use of traditional Korean instruments in a non-traditional context (ambient metal anyone?) does not require dance moves or hip hairstyling. And it remains to be seen if acoustic jazz guitarist Park Juwon's footwork is as fancy as his fingers are on the fretboard.

Fil-Canadian hip-hop group The Airplane Boys with Francis Brew. (Contributed photo by Francis Brew)

They proved what some locals were eager to point out throughout the conference: that Korean music scene is not just super-polished assembly-line K-po or "Gangnam Style" either.

And they want the world to know it.

Still, that might have to wait a little longer as PSY tours the world and prances all the way to the bank.

Special thanks to Rob Schwartz of Billboard Tokyo and Soo Kim/MU:CON Secretariat for their assistance.

Francis "Brew" Reyes wears many hats: guitarist, producer, arranger, music journalist, photographer and TV host. He once played guitar for the Dawn and was a DJ for NU107. In short, he is legendary. Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and check out his Tumblr.


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